Doctor Who: The Doctor and I Explain Death to a Four-Year-Old
The reason that my daughter isn't named Relm isn't only because my wife thinks that Final Fantasy VI was a lackluster entry in the franchise. It's mostly because we named her after our best friend Kat Cresswell, who we lost to cancer nine years, two months, and 16 days ago. She was an amazing girl whose example colors all I create.
Every year I visit her grave on the anniversary of her death. Every year but this one, as I was covering Comicpalooza on that date. Poverty dictated that I delay my pilgrimage, and the next time I was in Pearland was to pick up birthday presents for my daughter from Kat's mother, my daughter's Yaya and honorary grandparent.
South Park Cemetery is on the way back from Yaya's house, and I decided that this was when I would take my daughter, just turned four-years-old, to see where her namesake was buried.
"Come on, heart," I said as we got out of the car. "There's something I want to show you, but you have to be quiet, like in church." She was still wearing the pretty rose dress she had attended services in with my sister-in-law that morning. I've never been to church myself. I just assume it's quiet there.
Waiting for the announcement of the Twelfth Doctor
We walked to the bench that bears Kat's name. Shaded by a tree, it over looks the tombstone proper, inscribed with her name, dates, and lyrics from "You Are My Sunshine." I remember carrying her coffin to this spot like it was yesterday.
"This is a cemetery," I told her. "It's a place where we put the bodies of people who have died. Your Aunt Kat, who has your name, is buried here, and I like to come here to think about her and tell her that I still love her very much. I wanted to bring you here today, so you could see the place."
My daughter crawled up onto my knee as I knelt. I was crying and my voice was hoarse, and she put her arms around me.
"Maybe she'll regenerate," she said.
My daughter isn't very clear on death. This is somewhat my fault because she loves Doctor Who and I am loathe to tell her it's not real just as I wouldn't dream of telling her Santa Claus wasn't real.
She's seen death. Her daycare has lost several classroom pets, even having tiny funerals for them. She knows dead people go to Heaven (More complicated after-life discussions can wait until later), and that her Aunt Kat watches out for her.
But her hero is The Doctor. He's her Jesus, her imaginary friend, her older brother, and lots of other things. That's awesome, of course, but it's given her kind of a skewed viewpoint on death. She knows The Doctor dies, but really doesn't, and she knows that Matt Smith is an actor, not an actual Time Lord. She's less clear on Patrick Troughton, and was devastated when I told her that he would not be the new Doctor because he too was in Heaven. How could The Doctor be in Heaven? This song is ending, but the story never ends, and all that.
The Doctor's grave at Trenzalore
"She won't regenerate, heart," I told her, taking the plunge. "She's gone."
"The Doctor regenerates when he dies."
"Yes, he does. But we don't. We die, and then we're gone, and nobody knows for sure what happens next. It's a mystery."
She played with the ends of my hair, clearly thinking about it. I decided to switch tactics.
"You know what's important?" I asked her? She shook her head. "To be very brave, and to be very kind..."
"Like The Doctor," she whispered.
"Yes, like The Doctor, and this is why. People die. Even amazing people. Even people we love. We have to care for them, love them, save them if we can so that we can hold onto them while they're here... because one day they won't be. That's our job, sweetheart. We have to try and make things better if we can."
"But what happens when, when they're gone?" she asked me, voice barely audible. I was about to repeat that I didn't know, but then I remembered something the Second Doctor had said in "Tomb of the Cybermen," and paraphrased.
My daughter with her Yaya
"The people we love are never completely gone. We can see them if we want to. And that's the point, really. We have to really want to, to bring them back in front of our eyes. The rest of the time they... they sleep in our minds and we forget. You'll find there's so much else to think about. To remember. Our lives are different to anybody else's. That's the exciting thing that nobody in the universe can do what we're doing. That's why I come here. To bring her back in front of my eyes."
That seemed to satisfy her, and she climbed down to run between headstones while I sat silently communing with the memory of Kat. I watched blond curls bob behind marble monuments and heard her laugh when birds scattered from her approach. As she was taught, she kept one eye always on the cemetery's solitary stone angel lest it move.
I believe deeply in reincarnation, though I don't believe that my daughter is my friend reborn. Still, I was so touched by her in our brief time together on this planet. She taught me to live and create and to make the world more weird and wonderful. Hers was a fearsome energy. She burned. She was my Doctor, and I pass all I learned from her into my daughter every day. Maybe there's more to the definition of regeneration than I thought.
I called to my daughter, and took her hand as we walked back towards the car.
"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, heart. We've got work to do."
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events